The Central Tramway Company (Scarborough) Ltd is Britain’s oldest surviving tramway, or cliff railway company*. The company was registered at Companies House on the 20th of January 1881.

Cliff Lift, Cliff Railway, South Bay Scarborough

The Company was formed with an initial share capital of £10,000 pounds. The funds raised covered the cost of buying the land, laying the track, building the top and bottom stations, two carriages and the steam engine to drive the trams. 

The first Chairman of the Company was John Woodall Woodall (1831 – 1905) a Fellow of the Royal Society, four times Mayor of Scarborough, banker, marine environmentalist and general benefactor of Scarborough. He was passionate about the dangers of over-fishing the North Sea, in the late 19th Century. John Woodall Woodall’s family home was the building that is now the Town Hall, which included the St Nicholas Cliff Gardens and a large Exhibition Hall on the site of the current Olympia. The Exhibition Hall was designed to hold 5000 spectators and was used to promote the fishing industry. 

Cliff Lift, Cliff Railway, South Bay Scarborough

It is amazing ­­to think that all the work was done in six months, between registering the company on the 20th of January and opening to the public on the 1st of August 1881. £10,000 in 1881 is the equivalent of approximately £1 million in 2012.

The tramway was built by Messrs George Wood of Hull. The carriages were originally powered by a steam engine, located beneath the track. The steam engine was replaced by electric power in 1920. In 1932 Hudswell Clarke & Co of Leeds relaid the track and converted the electricity to ac drive with a 60 horse power motor at the upper station. At the same time, the local coach building company of Plaxton’s supplied new carriages. The new cars entered service in a livery of brownish red, the same colours that we have chosen for our refurbishment in 2012.

In 1967 a solid reinforced concrete foundation was laid under the track, with the exception of the top 30 yards. In 1975 a fire at the Olympia site damaged the carriages, so two new aluminium carriages were supplied by George Neville Truck Equipment of Kirkby in Ashfield.

The future of the Tramway was put in jeopardy in 1976 when pile driving at the Olympia site caused the track to collapse. The Tram did not operate for a full year. The company took the contractors to court and won full compensation for the remedial work and consequent losses.

In 2009 the company installed a fully automated drive system, with a new 60 HP motor with the objective of enabling a smooth acceleration and deceleration into and out of the stations. This automation took away dependency on manual driving, and consequently improved the safe operation of the facility.
In 2012, the company undertook a major refurbishment of the buildings and carriages. The woodwork of the Top Station has been renewed, inside and out, complete with new signage, and restoring the original livery of burgundy and cream.

* Source.  “ A 1975 centenary: The Scarborough Cliff Lifts.”  H.V. Jinks & J.H. Price.